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PF, be completely honest with me: should I switch majors?

  1. May 17, 2014 #1
    Here's the rundown of things: I've been wanting to be a computer engineer for years and years, but now, I'm just finding it difficult to understand math, specifically trigonometry (not even calculus yet!). I know for a fact that I'm just really awful at...shapes(?), so geometry and trigonometry haven't been so great for me.

    Just to clarify, the next course I'm supposed to take is calculus (finishing up my first year in college, so I am fairly behind), so I'm just a bit past geometry (I don't want any terrible misconceptions here about my math courses...haha).

    However, I do believe that I have a decent foundation of geometry now, along with trigonometry, but once problems stop becoming more than just "basic," I become really dependent on others for help (unless if the problems are more algebra-based—for the most part, those aren't issues for me).

    Regarding computers, I feel like programming isn't all that difficult for me to pick up once I give myself a bit of practice, to the point where I feel like, if I seem to be doing fine for programming, but struggling with math, I should just switch to computer science. Now, don't get me wrong, I really want to be a computer engineer, and, when it comes to computers, I really just want to work with hardware (not so much software), but honestly, I could work on a "challenge" trigonometry problem for thirty minutes on my own and still have no idea what to do, and only understand once someone shows their solution. Thirty minutes isn't a lot to work on one math problem, but I swear I always draw blanks for the more complex problems. Thirty minutes of being clueless for a trigonometry problem vs thirty minutes of learning...well, a lot for programming is why I feel like I'm better suited for computer science.

    I enjoy math, but I just feel extremely discouraged when I finally achieve the correct answer for something after an hour or more, but am then faced with a similar problem that essentially screams "nope, you don't actually know how to do this." And again, and again, and again.

    I also haven't even taken a physics course yet. I don't even know how I'll do with hard sciences. It's not that I'm set up for failure so much as I'm just not set up for success...

    It's upsetting to me because I really love learning about science and math, and I just love what engineers are capable of, but I don't know if computer engineering, specifically, is for me.

    Even though I'm asking for advice, I'm giving myself one more semester to see if computer engineering is obtainable in my position.

    Anyway, sorry for the long post, and thank you to whoever reads and responds to my call for opinions!
  2. jcsd
  3. May 17, 2014 #2


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    Have a look at question 4 here, I'll use that as an example. We are given two sides and one angle and must find the area. So the first thing to ask is, can we calculate the area? Nope, the rectangle is missing a side length, we can't use the formula yet. And in the triangle, we need the base and the height, we can't use that formula yet.

    So we must find those missing lengths, the rectangle's height and the triangle's height and base. But... the triangle and the rectangle have the same height (why?) so actually all we need is to know the height and base of the triangle.

    At this point you have a decision to make. Is it better to just find the base and height and then the two areas, or is it better to write down a formula for the area and then find the missing parts? This is a personal choice entirely. But suppose we want a formula now.

    Area = rect + tri
    = height*22 + 1/2 base height

    Do some algebraic manipulations:

    Area = height (22 + base/2)

    Ok, that part is done, you have a formula and can now apply your trig knowledge to find the base and height.


    This is the basic strategy to answering any question that uses geometry. There are rules and formulas you need to know but once you know them, the basic strategy is the same.

    There is another optimization I didn't include: we know that base = height (why?), so the formula is even simpler:
    ##A = {1 \over 2} x^2 + 22 x## where ##x = 14 \; cos \; 45°##.

    PS. Why not post one of those challenge questions in the homework section so you can get tips, and try to use the strategy I showed here.
  4. May 18, 2014 #3
    Computer engineering isn't all that math-heavy. You do have to be able to handle basic logic, but not too much more than that. If you can understand logic gates and assembly language, that's what I think of when I think of computer engineering. Some computer engineering degrees will be a lot like EE, which involves substantial math, so it may depend on the requirements of the program. Generally, my sense is that there's more math involved in getting a degree than you'll encounter in practice, so it's my suspicion that the actual jobs will be a better fit for you than the degree itself, if you can get through the degree, although you'd have to ask practicing computer engineers to know for sure (I'm just a guy who studied EE for a while before switching to math). Even digital electronics, as far as I can remember, was closer to the other computer engineering stuff than it was to analog circuit analysis. The people who are doing the really detailed stuff about how the electronics is working are probably semi-conductor physicists or EE people who swing that way. That's not so much what computer engineering is about.

    You can always try to go more towards the computer engineering side of CS or more towards the CS side of computer engineering.
  5. May 18, 2014 #4


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    I think everyone must make their own decision and live with it, so you will have to decide which major is right for you.
  6. May 18, 2014 #5
    When I am facing a difficult decision, I experiment with different things, I don't just sit there and perform thought experiments because unless you have experienced a specific subject, you never know whether you are going to like it or not. After I experiment with different things, I eliminate things I definitely don't like and leave ~ 2 options to choose from.

    I don't think the problem is the difficulty, it is mostly the interest and motivation (especially since CE maths isn't too difficult).

    Now that you have experimented with CE, and discovered that you don't like it, what are your options? CS? EE? ME? A non-engineering/science degree?

    What is your goal? What do you want to achieve with CE? I think being confident and certain about your goal makes things much easier. If you have one clear goal, the decision becomes a lot easier.
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